Triathlon Plus/TriRadar columnist Phil Graves proves a tumble on the Tarmac happens to the best of us.

Triathlon Blogs - Phil GravesPeople say it’s just a case of when, not if, when it comes to bike crashes, and I’ve had my fair share of one-on-one dates with the Tarmac. So, this month I want to take you through my career in crashes and hopefully you’ll learn from some of my amateurish mistakes! I can still remember my first bike crash on a proper race bike, and I’m sure it is exactly the same as everyone else’s. I got my first road bike with clipless pedals when I was 13, and for anyone starting out, getting used to proper bike pedals is a nightmare.

Anyway, out on my first ride I made it around the roundabout at the bottom of the street, but just round the corner there was a queue of traffic at some traffic lights that caused me to stop. Before I knew it, I was lying on the road with my feet still clipped into the pedals, wondering where it had all gone wrong. As a 13-year-old you think you know everything.

Well, not a lot changes as you grow up, but how could something I thought so simple now, have been so difficult then? I’ll even admit it, last year I had a try on a new pedal system and the same thing happened, I just couldn’t get my shoes out of my pedals, and over I toppled. Luckily I was by myself, so couldn’t be humiliated – I would never have lived it down if I’d been out on the chaingang!

Crash, bang, wallop

So that was the first time I said hello to the Tarmac – the very first ride. But my crashing career would progress at quite some speed over the following year. When I was 14, I hit my peak and had the biggest crash I’ve ever had. Perhaps not the most spectacular, but definitely the worst. We were doing bike efforts around the lake and decided we would sprint for a line as we came from the bottom of the lake just before the grandstand.

Boys will be boys, and I thought I was Mario Cipollini because I was wearing a pink leader’s jersey from the Tour of Italy I had got on a trip there earlier in the year. I went full gas, won, and held out my arms in the air as you do, of course. What I didn’t expect was for one of the girls on the camp who was just scooting round outside the grandstand to do a U-Turn right in front of me without looking behind, and I hit her back wheel and took flight at just over 30mph.

I lay there and knew I had broken my collarbone, which a trip to the hospital (still in my pink jersey, so I looked a prize idiot in A&E) confirmed. It took me two months before I could start training again and was the longest summer of my life!

Stuck to the bar

There have been a few more accidents along the way, including one crash riding a road race in the wet, where I slit my hand open pretty bad (tip: wear track mitts when riding!). I got back on, with my hand sticking to my bars because of all the blood.

However, now we arrive at my latest crash. I was sprinting a friend for a sign (do you notice a pattern here?) on my summer bike. It was the first ride of the year on that bike and the chain must have got brittle during the winter, as it snapped when I was sprinting at full power.

This all happened in full view of about eight guys I was riding with, so I had a good audience as I smashed my ‘bits’ on the crossbar. I ended up with feet out of the pedals, riding on the crossbar, hands holding on to the bars for dear life. I could only stop by using my feet, so I had two huge holes in my overshoes where I had used my toes as brakes on the Tarmac.

But I did stay on – better than one of the guys watching, who ended up in the hedge backwards – to this day we all have no idea how! I finally managed to stop, but it takes quite a while when you use your feet to slow down from 30mph. I got off, as I didn’t have a chain so couldn’t pedal over to the guys. I remember the guy in the hedge laughing his head off, saying he’d never seen anything like it. After 10 minutes of hysterics we set off home.

So, be careful, and try not to get embroiled in any sprints for signs with your friends – it can only end in disaster. I’ll see you on the road – I’m the one with the huge three-inch scar across his left hand and the funny-looking left collarbone.